Medical logistics gets in shape
Enterprise architecture brings new vision to health care support
- By Doug Beizer
- Jul 06, 2007
One little-known part of the often controversial Base Realignment and Closure process is an effort to revamp the way the military's medical community is organized. The goal is to better integrate medical facilities and services to reduce redundancy and better serve patients.
A big part of that effort has been the creation of an enterprise architecture for all medical systems. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and other Defense Department entities will operate under the new enterprise architecture, which should let their systems interoperate seamlessly.
The use of enterprise architecture should optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of the medical logistics supply chain that provides goods and services to support the troops.
Defense Medical Logistics brought in IDS Scheer Inc., of Berwyn, Pa., to develop the new enterprise architecture using the company's ARIS platform, a business process management tool.
ARIS is based on an integrated repository, so data can be exchanged and processed across multiple solutions. All user groups ? such as management and information technology departments ? work in an integrated environment using ARIS.
"Previously, before we had visibility of the systems that were out there in DOD, there were a whole slew of applications and systems that really weren't brought together," said Ed Tom, IDS Scheer's consulting services manager. "The systems were actually separated into many smaller pieces."
Field hospitals in theater were one of the pieces. Medical treatment facilities in the United States and abroad were another area. There wasn't a single portfolio available that showed Defense Medical Logistics leaders what applications and systems existed. The new enterprise architecture eliminates that visibility problem.
The new enterprise architecture is designed to continue the interoperability effort, called the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support program, Lt. Col. William Warden of the Defense Medical Logistics' Directorate of Medical Materiel told Washington Technology in an e-mail message.
"Despite success of the support program in developing joint applications, each organization within the Defense Medical Logistics enterprise retained considerable latitude to implement IT solutions," Warden said.
That approach created duplication and ineffective end-to-end process management. With the new enterprise architecture, that problem is already receding, he said.
Before developing the new enterprise architecture little operational process modeling was used to manage the logistics community's business processes.
"The concept of architecture was perceived as the domain of the techies," Warden said. "This allowed fragmented and isolated pockets of data- or system-centric modeling to occur with little cross-organizational alignment."
That led to the adoption of different toolsets, nonstandardiized mechanisms for alignment, and disparate processes for mediating conflicting issues.
One of the critical features of the new enterprise architecture was to establish service-oriented architecture requirements, said Greg Deller, principal consultant at Enterprise Integration Inc., the company that installed the ARIS Defense Solution for the project.
"Service-oriented architecture allows the integration of a lot of different systems instead of forcing them to all go to one system," Deller said.
Many systems involved in medical logistics also perform multiple functions. Onboard a ship, for example, a single system might manage medical, food supply and repair parts logistics. That mingling makes it impossible to simply stop using old systems in favor of new ones.
"You have a whole web of systems out there that need to be integrated but you're not going to replace them all," Deller said. "Service-oriented architecture allows you to have a variety of services out there orchestrated together."
In addition to the services, the Defense Logistics Agency, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and dozens of medical products suppliers were involved in developing the enterprise architecture.
Coordinating all those entities proved to be a serious challenge, Warden said.
"If our leadership had not been believers in the benefits, the extra time spent on this work would have been difficult to sustain while executing support to Operation Iraqi Freedom, numerous humanitarian missions, and the active forces, their dependents, and retirees around the world," he said.
After two years of work, the new enterprise architecture is already reaping benefits, Warden said. By looking at the as-is process model for how the Defense Logistics Agency handles assemblage production, inefficiencies in the process were uncovered. By questioning the inefficiencies, the agency could address them.
"Identifying and collapsing similar processes from the Army and Air Force at Wilford Hall Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio provided opportunities to aggregate requirements to optimize the acquisition of medical equipment," he said.Staff writer Doug Beizer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.